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BRASS has blast off; Durham's brass festival got a rousing launch yesterday and DAVID WHETSTONE was there. Here he explains how this year brass is getting a bus-sized boost and help from... plastic instruments.

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

THE Marquess of Londonderry on his big metal horse was upstaged in Durham Market Place yesterday by the Big BRASS Bus, a pink double decker parked at the heart of brass territory.

It was there to mark the start of the 11-year-old festival known as Durham BRASS and to act as a backdrop to rousing performances by street bands Oompah Brass, from London, and Back Chat Brass, from Leeds.

A decent-sized crowd of all ages stopped to listen as the musicians whipped up a lunchtime storm of sound.

Some young members of the impromptu audience were hearing brass music for the first time and also getting their first opportunity to perform.

The lower deck of the bus contains a cache of instruments which children across County Durham will get the chance to try out during the festival.

They make a brass sound but - whisper it - they're not actually brass instruments.

They're made of plastic and they've been made available for the festival by pBone, sponsors of the Big BRASS Bus and purveyors of a range of instruments that are advertised as being affordable, lightweight, durable and fun.

They're certainly brightly coloured and they certainly make plenty of noise, as four-year-old George Bradgate was only too eager to demonstrate in Durham Market Place, blowing on a bright red pBone trombone while watched by mum Corrin and two-year-old sister Daisy.

During the festival 10,000 plastic mouthpieces will be given out to children across the county who will be urged to practice the brass player's distinctive blowing technique. Those who then approach the Big BRASS Bus will get the chance to insert it into one of the pBone instruments and perhaps take the first steps towards becoming the next Dizzy Gillespie.

Or, perhaps, the next Andy Cox. The musician, 13 years a sax player, is one member of Leeds-based street band Back Chat Brass which was strutting its stuff in front of Friday's lunchtime audience.

"We've all been here in the past with various other bands but this is a new band," he said.

"Sometimes you just need to do something different. I think things can get a bit stale if you always do the same thing so a new band can give you a new lease of life.

"I think what characterises this band is high energy performances.

"But the main aim is to engage as many people as possible. We want to get people involved in the performance so it's a bit more than just us playing and them watching.

"That's what you need with street music. You want to create an experience for the audience."

Turn to Page 44 From Page 43 Seven-strong Back Chat Brass do street performances but that's not all.

"We do everything," said Andy. "We did start out playing just on the streets but now we do all sorts of events including weddings and festivals and concerts. Anywhere who can afford us, we'll play!" Back Chat Brass and Oompah Brass, the longest serving Durham BRASS visitor, are among the nine street bands who will be out and about during the festival.

Wherever you see them the Big BRASS Bus won't be far away.

It will be in Millennium Place, Durham, today for the Miners' Gala and then again next Saturday and Sunday for Streets of Brass.

It will tour the county as The Big Brass Bash, parking in Spennymoor on July 10, Crook on July 11, Shildon on July 12, Seaham on July 13 and finally Newton Aycliffe on July 14.

This year, for the first time, Durham BRASS has been overseen by an artistic director, Paul Gudgin.

A trombone player, he was also director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for eight years which I suggested must be a challenging job. "You don't so much direct it as hold onto its coat tails," he said with a smile.

"But it has become a big mainstay of the festival. Even through hard times Edinburgh has continued to back its festival and it's getting the rewards."

Durham BRASS, too, seems to have become established.

"It is built on very solid foundations," said Paul.

"But I think in bringing me on board they were looking at taking it to the next level, perhaps trying to draw even more people into the brass world.

"All festivals are really a basketful of partnerships which help in big and small ways but Durham County Council continues to back it. They realise that you need to bring visitors into town."

Friday's launch event in the Market Place seemed to be going well. "It is the perfect venue for something like this," said Paul.

"But the festival is also going out across the county to places like Spennymoor, Crook and Seaham and it's great that we have the bus. It's a really great festival symbol - our mascot, really.

"It will be going out and about with these guys and really engaging the public."

And with the youngsters able to get their hands on the pBone instruments, the hope is that they too will learn to love the sound of brass which has become part of the fabric of County Durham and other mining areas.

As well as the street bands there are plenty of ticketed indoor concerts at the Gala Theatre and Durham Cathedral. Paul picked out a couple of events that "represent the things we do".

His first choice was Belshazzar's Feast in Durham Cathedral next Saturday.

"We've put together a chorus of over 100 people and combined them with the Reg Vardy Band.

"So we've taken a very well known piece of classical music (by William Walton) and had it arranged for choir and brass band, these two big local things, to create something unique.

"The piece was arranged by Steve Robson, a local guy who's done all kinds of stuff before, and I like the idea that it's bringing people from outside into the brass world while also showcasing talented brass playing as well."

Andy's other choice was Northern Soul BRASSed-Up at the Gala Theatre on Friday.

"It's taking these local passions, northern soul and brass, and putting them together with a DJ (Chris King). So, again, it's taking something really popular and throwing it into the middle of brass."

If you wonder how northern soul band Keep the Faith and the Nasuwt Riverside Brass Band will rub along, this is your chance to find out.

Meanwhile, if the earlier reference to Dizzy Gillespie didn't mean much to you, there's a chance on Thursday to find out more.

In a concert at the Gala Theatre called Dizzy & Co, the BBC Band will pay homage to one of the greatest trumpeters of all time, born 100 years ago.

A few words, finally, from Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, who said: "BRASS builds on our proud brass band heritage and is a contemporary and vibrant event which draws musicians and bands from across the world into the heart of Durham.

"Festivals like BRASS help ensure that individuals, groups and organisations right across our county are encouraged to get involved and we are extremely proud of our community outreach programmes. "We are looking forward to 10 days of outstanding music and the continued development of BRASS into a truly international festival."

Durham BRASS runs until July 16. For the full line-up and ticket information go to www.brassfestival.co.uk, tel. 03000 265552 or follow on Facebook at /BrassInternationalFestival or on Twitter using the hashtag #DurhamBRASS.

You don't so much direct it as hold onto its coat tailsArtistic director, Paul Gudgin
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 8, 2017
Words:1263
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